The Rise of Rastafari ina Azania: A Synopsis by Jah Rootsman

Dub Poet Jah Rootsman documented the Rise of the Rastafari Movement in South Africa in his memoir The Rise of Rastafari in Azania. It was first published in June 2010 and then updated  in August 2012. The synopsis is available here.

Here are some snippets/quotes of what is contained in the book touching on different topics.

Rastafari in South Africa

“Suddenly, within this racist, remorseless and tyrannical domination, elders like Johnny Mash aka Jah Rootsman, Carlos Djedje, Themba “Asher” Mabuza, Puppa Rico, Boetie “Judah”, “Bettah mus’ Come” and a very few and chosen elect; defied the system by growing their locks, becoming the forefathers of Rastafari in South Africa. Because it had never happened in a racist regime, at first babylon did not know how to deal with us. The Kneejerk reaction was to harass anyone with dreadlocks, under the pretext of searching for ganja, throwing them into the police van and driving around for hours, eventually leaving whoever it was, wherever they felt like.”

Rastafari in Africa

“Everywhere in Africa, governments developed a non-tolerance attitude towards anyone who had the inkling of dreadlocks or Rastafari and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was the most oppressive and repressive of the Rasta community, to which he likened them to gays and homosexuals;even though Zimbabwe had a radio station which provided reggae 24 hours. When Bob Marley performed in Zimbabwe on 17 April 1980, it was for the pleasure of the Zimbabweans and not for the advancement of the regime then. Even though we as Rastas propagate the philosophy of freedom to all, as instructed by H I M and are very much politically aware, we do not include politicians in our midst as they have an agenda contrary to what we believe in; starting with honesty and righteousness.”

“In South Africa, Rastafari was never an underground movement and we openly flaunted the fact that we follow the teachings of H I M Haile Selassie Jah Rastafari, that the holy herb was our holy and sacred sacrament, and do not recognize Babylon as our authority.”

Dub Sessions

“By the late 80’s the concept of “Rub-a-Dub’s sprang up all over the townships, where bredren could mingle and get to know each other for fya against babylon. Dubs started as gatherings with brothers playing the latest riddim over house speakers, on then, vinyls or LP’s, to which there would be skanking right throughout the night, usually. Ital would be provided by the host while idren would bring herb for reasoning and meditations. In the beginning, there were also no queens except for the queen of the host and those who were already married and brought their wives along.”

“Jah Rootsman, being a performer and a DubMaster already from the 80’s, introduced the concept of free mic in dubs where idren suddenly found they could toast, sing and chant to dub riddims, of which Jah Rootsman had the biggest collection and variety.”

The Youth

“The youthdrens, whenever they look up to an Elder, should have this in the forefront of their minds. That it was the same Elders, whom some despise, who gave birthto them with their blood and pride for the opportunity to lift their hand in dignity and say: “JAH RASTAFARI, SELASSIE I”; freely, without shame, fear or repression. My eternal gratitude to these elders, who dared with their lives and dignity; to plant this profound seed of humaneness under the auspicious patronage of our King and Emperor, Haile Selassie I, Jah Rastafari. In my life, I never want to be anything else in life but Rastafari. It is fulfillment of life.”

The 90’s

“In this period, we had groups like Angolah and the Groaners, Musical Roots of Mamelodi, who performed with Jah Rootsman for an SABC TV program called La Pologa, at which the first South African Rastafari song by Jah Rootsman, “Lion ina Jungle”was banned as it contained the words “JAH” in the lyrics. Then there were stalwarts like Carlos Djedje, who brought his reggae brand from Mozambique and inspired many reggae artists and bands that followed in South Africa. I may be wrong but he was the first dreadlocked Reggae artist to grace the scene.”

Africa Day

“On 25 May 1996, we were honored with the auspicious presence of Kings like Freddie McGregor, Don Carlos, Eric Donaldson, Andrew Tosh and Roots Radics, who performed on the Africa Day Special at the then new Johannesburg Stadium. The concert was curtain raised by Jah Rootsman”


Read the full Synopsis here

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